After 12 years and four terms, the City of Englewood’s Michael Cohen finally bid goodbye to his role on the city council.
In his farewell letter he began by thanking the constituents of his beloved second ward for allowing him to represent them and calling the opportunity “the greatest of honors” to be able to not only serve in his own community, but also “to contribute something meaningful” and to be “a voice in an arena so critical to the quality of life for friends and neighbors.”
Cohen currently serves as the eastern director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, and has also been appointed by New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy to serve on the New Jersey-Israel Commission where he is vice chair of culture and community engagement.
By the time he assumed his seat on the council, Cohen had already spent much of his career in government and politics. He was a regular on Capitol Hill working for a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, then as a senior staffer in the New York State Senate leadership. He also served on the staff of a member of the New York City Council and planning boards, and worked on dozens upon dozens of campaigns.
Cohen said that this professional experience afforded him a tremendous advantage in understanding how to immediately have an impact. Because he had personally managed city, state and federal budgets, he knew exactly what to look for to find savings, deficits and surpluses. That experience came in handy in his first year on the council when he not only successfully put an end to the annual double-digit property tax increases that had made the community unaffordable but actually managed to have 0% increases on four occasions.
Some of his other significant accomplishments include increased safety measures while he served on the Englewood Traffic Advisory Board, which made the streets infinitely safer for pedestrians in the community. He negotiated the agreement allowing for Congregation Ahavath Torah to use the city’s right of way to build security planters to protect congregants at a time of rising antisemitic hate crimes. He initiated a plan for sidewalk development in areas sorely lacking them but were also critical to pedestrian safety in the community. He led the charge for the continuity and maintenance of the public ice rink at the John T. Wright Arena and modernized the Department of Public Works sanitation fleet in the interest of efficiency and fiscal responsibility.
Cohen is also responsible for drafting and introducing Englewood’s first resolution recognizing the holiday of Juneteenth. “The fact of seeing an Orthodox Jew who writes and forwards the resolution to honor the Juneteenth holiday was a real signal that I am here and we are here to figure out a way to increase our cooperation and mutual understanding, that we share this incredible city of ours and we should be working much more closely together as the history of our communities really demonstrated,” he said.
Cohen prides himself the most on his constituent service, and said the key is to cultivate meaningful relationships in the various municipal departments in the city.
“It’s not just sitting up there and taking votes once a week. It’s about being the conduit between the city bureaucracy and the people you represent and making sure that you can be their voice and their advocate. If you do this job right, then you are available 24/7. You are always on and you are always there to help whoever needs assistance.
“I loved every minute that I was in the council but it doesn’t mean that every moment was easy,” he said, adding, “ I need to thank my wife, Elana, for all the sacrifices she made for us and the family all these years.”
Several elected officials, municipal chiefs and lay leaders came forward to sing Cohen’s praises and share their thoughts on his service and retirement.
Congressman Josh Gottheimer: “Michael Cohen has devoted countless hours working to make our communities and our nation even greater. From his work using the lessons of the Holocaust to confront antisemitism, hate and terrorism, to his work in public service — most recently as an Englewood councilman — Michael’s work has built bridges across divides, successfully shepherded forward anti-BDS resolutions, lowered taxes and supported our first responders.”
Englewood Mayor Michael Wildes: “Michael Cohen served our city faithfully for more years than most and was a Kiddush Hashem. He was effective, consistent, and always balanced in his fiscal decisions and social responsibility. While the extremes seem to have hijacked the national agenda, we were fortunate to have his leadership all these years in the Englewood home front. He set a high bar for constituent service and responsiveness, and will be sorely missed.”
Englewood Police Chief Tom Greeley: “His selfless dedication to his constituents and the City he served was evident from the moment we met on the City Traffic Advisory Committee. I always appreciated his open-mindedness and his ability to approach any issue in a rational manner, always with the best interest of our community in mind—even if it went against what others were saying. In my experience, his goal was never to make the easy decision; his goal was to make the right decision. He was (and is still) a great supporter of our Police Department and has always been a true partner in helping keep our city safe. I am blessed that our department has built, over many years, a wonderful relationship with our Jewish community. Many people are responsible for this, and I certainly count Michael as one of the people who keeps that bond strong. We wish him and his family all the best as he closes this chapter and moves on to the next.”
Rabbi Chaim Poupko, Congregation Ahavath Torah: “Our community owes a great debt of gratitude to Michael Cohen for his 12 years of service as councilman in Englewood. In Michael we found a staunch advocate for his constituents who was always accessible and eager to help in any way he could. His passion for public service that marks his professional career was apparent in his efforts at home in his own community. We will miss him very much.”
Senator Gordon M. Johnson: “Councilman Cohen is a good man and a dedicated public servant who strived to represent the interests of not only the Second Ward but all of Englewood, New Jersey. A fierce proponent of equality and fighter of bigotry, Cohen’s tenacity will be missed by all those he represented over his long career.”
Dr. Benjamin Choauke, Englewood resident and national president of Norpac: “He’s been extraordinarily dedicated and served the community in multiple capacities. He’s selfless and extremely diligent in making the city more functional, stronger and fiscally stronger. He brings communities closer together and served the Jewish community very honorably. He manages to push things forward in a way that avoids offending anyone, and makes people feel like everyone has a part in it.”
By Ronit Mershon